There’s no denying that the language barrier is one of the major points that one needs to consider before moving to another country. How will one feel when one is no longer able to carry out simple, everyday tasks, like going to the bank, or calling a locksmith? In a world where you don’t speak the dominant language, simple tasks can be overwhelmingly daunting.
I’ve seen two approaches to this:
- Take language courses and become as proficient as possible in the new language, without full-time study.
- Learn a survival version of the language. Enough to be able to function in shops, restaurants, and taxis.
As an expat blogger in Korea, it’s pretty much my duty to encourage you to learn as much Korean as you can. I feel a little awkward doing so, as I’ve fallen quite heavily on the survival Korean side of things. I blame how little time I have to spare, but I know that there are are options for me. There are podcasts and free lessons, language exchanges and formal classes, online lessons and Skype and…
The list goes on. To be honest, there isn’t an excuse for not learning Korean.
The language barrier can be, at times, an extension of the ‘waygook card’ – an excuse, an easy out, a get out of jail free card. It can mean skipping out on long, drawn-out meetings, or avoiding office politics (which exist because… well… because humans)
For example, there was a very loud disagreement (or voice of dissent, or just some general unpleasantness) in my office recently. Earlier that same day, I found myself sat with some of my coteachers in a coffee shop. They proceeded to discuss a matter that, by the tone and by what I did pick up, was a general vent about a situation at school.
While neither of those situations was terribly comfortable to be in, I was still able (to an extent) to go about my business as though these issues did not exist. Steering clear of internal disagreements is a tricky path to navigate, and the language barrier simplifies the issue somewhat.
Simply put, I found myself in an interesting situation over the last few days of both desperately wanting to understand more, and wishing that I understood less. While my overall advice to newcomers to Korea is to learn Korean, I would also advise you to not be too hasty in letting on just how much you understand.